Cyclones set to do battle with 'Toppers


Photo by Dave Boyd
EHS coach Tommy Jenkins and puts Lester Bailey and the rest of the Cyclones through a non-contact practice on Thursday at Brown-Childress Stadium.

By Ivan Sanders
STAR STAFF
isanders@starhq.com
Last season, the Science Hill Hilltoppers visited Brown-Childress Stadium and dominated the game for the first two and one half quarters of football against Elizabethton. From that point on, Walter Brown and company came storming back to take a thrilling 34-28 win with time running out.
Tonight brings a new season for both teams, but thoughts of last season's opener will remain fresh in the minds of those that participated in that game. Kickoff for the season opener for both teams is slated at 7:30 p.m. at Steve Spurrier Field in Johnson City.
"This game has been played for a long span of years and it's an emotional one because it gives bragging rights to either the people of Johnson City or Elizabethton, depending on the outcome," stated Cyclone coach Tommy Jenkins.
"We have practiced for five weeks and we are a little bit anxious to play against someone else besides ourselves."
With numerous positions being hotly contested during the five weeks of preparation for the new season, players have finally been identified to fill important slots for the 2003 edition of the Cyclones.
Junior Jake Berkley has received the confidence of offensive coordinator Eddie Pless to get the starting nod in the vacant quarterback position.
Even though Berkley will be starting, fans still may get the chance to see either sophomore Charles Peters or sophomore Weston Jeffers, who will be lurking the sidelines awaiting to be called upon.
Said Pless of his decision: "Jake's experience and improvement over a year's period has pushed him to the point he's ready for the starting assignment. Having two quality quarterbacks behind him in Peters and Jeffers has made him even better."
For Berkley, this is the opportunity he has waited and worked for since a young boy.
"I've been working with Coach (Ryan) Witten since I was 12 years old for this chance to be the Cyclones' starting quarterback," said the personable Berkley at the pre-game meal on Thursday.
"I am a little anxious to get out there, sort of like the time you get to kiss your first girl, I guess."
If the Cyclones are going to be successful this time around against the Toppers, the running game will be a key ingredient to a winning recipe.
Fans will get a chance to see Lester Bailey take over for the departed Brown. Bailey has blazing speed and can juke with the best of them in the open field, but the key for Bailey's success will be the offensive line's ability to create the open hole for Bailey to scamper through.
Ernie Bray, Brad Osborne and James Peterson will have to step up to spell Bailey, especially since Bailey goes both ways to prevent him from cramping due to the heat.
"I'm going to have to rely on the blocking of my lineman to get me into the open field where I can be able to juke and jive some," stated Bailey. " I have to come out and give 110 percent and stay focused on what I need to do."
Science Hill knows that for the Toppers to reclaim the bragging rights, it all starts with stopping the Cyclones running game and being able to keep the ball in its hands with a solid running game of its own.
"Our main focus is on being able to run the football and control it, unlike we did in the game last season," stated Topper coach John Bowles. "I am not so sure we can control the game by throwing the ball, so we will definitely need to control the clock with the running game."
SH will be led by 6-2 senior Jeff Joslin at quarterback, who takes the reins from a graduated Kye Hamilton. Joslin has a mammoth line in front of him that averages 253 pounds and is anchored by 6-6, 268 pound Tommy Schnell.
Running the ball for the Toppers will be 6-0, 172 tailback Tom Vanthornout and 5-11, 170 tailback Chris Patton. Anthony Barcell at 6-7, 214 will be a major target for Joslin from his tight end position.
The defensive unit of the Cyclones realize the task they have in front of them tonight. EHS will need big things from the defensive line led by seniors Cody Bunton, Evan Lindauer, and Clinton Vannoy.
If the Topper backs and receivers break the initial point of contact for the Cyclones, the linebackers and secondary will have a busy night, but one they are ready for.
"We need our D-line to shut down the run where we can force them to put the ball in the air because our secondary will be ready to cover the ball," said senior linebacker Justin Grace. "We are really ready to play after all the practice we've been going through the last five weeks."
Added free safety Adam Turley: "It's going to take us stepping up big especially since we came back and beat them last season. They'll be ready so we will need to shut them down defensively to give our offense good field position and a chance to score.
Jenkins mirrored the thoughts of Bowles when asked to identify the key to the game for the Cyclones.
Said Jenkins: "We outgained Science Hill last season 240-80. We'll need to do the same by running the ball effectively and mix the throw in occasionally. We just need to be able to hold onto the ball and keep sustained drives going the entire game.
"They are an explosive team and have quality athletes. We will have our hands full, but the kids are ready, the coaches are ready, and I think the Cyclone fans are ready.
"If we can come out, be respectable and stay in the game until the fourth quarter, we have a chance to win any ball game we play."